6 Key ways to Get Ahead in Today’s Music Business.

In the last decade, the Music business has seen more startup failures than most money-making endeavors. This is mainly because it involves a lot of money, ideas, and an enormously gifted artist to stand out and get noticed among the fierce competition. I am privileged to have been an artist myself, under the stage name ReDkAd, and also a part of many successful and unsuccessful startups, the biggest of whom is Burnaboy who has been recently nominated for a Grammy award. Preye(Aristocrat), as he was referred to by close friends, arrived Port-Harcourt from the USA hoping to sign an artist. Myself, Burnaboy, Leriq, Onosz, and feedback were one of the few people he met and initially hung out with in the studio. Sugarboy,  Ms. chief, Onosz and most recently Blaqbonez are other acts I have studied closely. I would not claim to have made any major contributions but I was close to these acts enough to see what worked and what failed.

After Introducing Onosz to Preye, Onosz got the chance to record a track with Burna.

As ReDkAd, I released a Mixtape titled Hip-hop dead or Alive to critical acclaim and began to be seen as one of the fastest emerging Rap talents out of Nigeria. I got signed to Legendary records in 2012 but had a fall-out with the label over a breach of contract, the label had failed to follow through on some of its obligations during the time I was recording my first album which I titled February 16th. Soon after the exit, I ventured overseas, leaving the shores of Nigeria for greener pastures. My romance with entertainment did not end here. In 2013, I got featured on Hot96, one of the USA’s biggest radio stations as Indiana’s next big thing, but by that time I had already made up my mind to go into the music business. I partnered with a certain upcoming artist (names withheld) to float a record label, but due to a series of events the label did not see the light of day. I started my blog at about the same time the label failed and between that time and now, I have managed a club ; managed events involving A-list artists; and also directed and successfully managed music video projects.  All these experiences put together gives me a lot of insight into understanding why a lot of individuals fail at some point when trying to grow in the music business.

Redkad’s My life music video shot in 2012 and “Born me for Lagos” off ReDkAd’s Hip-hop Dead or Alive Mixtape in 2011.

Download Redkad – Born me for Lagos


Social media is a great way to get ahead.

But this article is not about me or what I have managed to achieve, but rather it is about upcoming artists and what they have failed to understand about the music business. Let us get a bit more serious and get in-depth on how to get ahead in the music business as an artist.

1. Nurture the Talent

Every artist who wants to make it in entertainment has to have some level of talent to showcase. An artist has to be convinced and confident about the talent they possess and ready to showcase it when called upon. It is also very important to continuously get better and to keep improving. Artists continuously have to reinvent themselves, because the skill-sets required to survive in 2019  may be different from what is required to stay afloat in the future, say 2030. When I use the word Talent, I mean all aspects of creativity. The uniqueness of the songs, Photo-shoots, and the direction of the videos are all an indication of how talented an artist is.  Having a different perspective is what makes a brand compelling and attractive to its fans. Talent is the raw material required to make the unique product (music) we will be selling.

2. Understand Business principles

This is, in my opinion, the most important key to being a successful music businessman. A lot of artists with enormous prospects and skills, wither and die because they have no business aptitude. As a matter of fact, an artist with minimal talent but great business acumen is more likely to survive than if it was vice versa. Many artists do not understand the basics of Business or the ones that do, find it hard to apply these basic business principles to their music. In my opinion, there are two parallel sides in entertainment as a whole, One is the artistic side, and the other is the business or commercial side of it. Having knowledge of only one or the other will limit the chances of success. Most successful brands have been the ones who understand both sides of the divide or have partners that handle business while the other party concentrates on the creative side of things. It is recommended that even with a partner, it is important to understand how both sides work at least to a certain extent. A good example is Jay z and Dame Dash both were partners and complemented each other. A very Intriguing fact is that what is good for creativity may not be necessarily good for business and vice versa. It may be creative to smoke cigarettes on a track, but if the goal is to be the brand ambassador for a health care provider, the artist may not qualify. The same as posing nude, which may be considered bad from the creative side may rake in the money. Understanding how an idea impacts creativity or business positions an artist for greatness.

Therefore every artist have to educate themselves on a few basic Business and economic principles such as buying and selling, markets, Scale of preference, Budgets, Production, distribution, credit, debit, profit and loss accounting, business name registration, Patent, copyright, contracts laws, etc. because decisions that are made every day without understanding these underlying principles will hurt the process in the long run. Most importantly, research to find out about terms and formulas specific to the music industry. An upcoming artist discarded a great deal with a record label because he had reasoned that since he has the talent( raw material) and the label was just coming through with the finances, he should get 70 percent while the label gets 40 percent. These great opportunities do not come all the time so being Novice about standard practices like this can keep a promising lad grounded for years. A simple search on Google can provide answers on what a standard offer looks like and what makes an artist eligible for more.

Acts want to concern themselves with the creative process alone leaving behind critical knowledge required to establish and run a business. More often than not, this causes the death of many promising music brands.  I have met artists that have no idea what a good business plan or model is, so they seldomly make good business decisions.

3. Have a Source of Income

Music is expensive, most businesses require a one-time start-up capital to take off, but the reality is that being an artist requires a source of capital – a constant flow of money, because It may take years of financial commitments and time to finally break out an artist. It typically takes millions of dollars to completely establish a major artist. This huge investment makes it impossible for a lot of aspiring musicians to go far in the industry without a sponsor. This is the reason several musicians and entertainers turn to record labels for help. Record labels have the resources to provide financial backing to talented acts. They typically pay the cost required to produce, distribute, manage, and promote the artist’s contents.

Getting signed on to a record label comes with its own problems. one of the major problems especially in Nigeria is that everyone with a sizeable amount of money claims to be a record label, even without the necessary know-how, networking, and connections. Another issue stems from the fact that many artists have no idea what a good contract looks like. The news of being signed on to a label is heralded with so much happiness, expectations, and buzz that it is almost as if the artist has made it in life, but little do they know is that whatever penny is spent on the artist as either advance cash or cost of production must be retrieved. Therefore the artist must be committed to working harder than ever rather than showing off. Whatever is written in the contract agreement handed by record label must carefully be reviewed and understood by the artist, his associates or his lawyer (recommended). There is so much Jargon written in contracts that it is advisable to get a lawyer in order to understand it from a legal perspective. This will help the artist make informed decisions that will get you ahead. Artists have to understand what is expected of them and what the label has to offer. The main issue is that many acts disregard the documents, and then sign on to labels to later realize they do not really like the offer.

Do not put pen to paper unless the entire document is understood.

Most issues arise from the artists expecting to get more than what was spelled out in the contract, or the record label not being able to meet up with their financial responsibility. Both situations cause a lot of friction and both parties more often than not, find themselves in court, or go their separate ways. Today, social media has helped a little in the area of scouting talents, promotions, and distributions that a record label does not have as much power as it once had. Many acts who have the money and network to push their music locally have taken up the burden of being their own label. Platforms such as youtube, iTunes, Soundcloud provide options for acts to make some money. Instagram, Facebook a huge pool of people to aid promotions and distributions. In the past decade, we have seen a lot of artists go from the comfort of their bedrooms to performing in great venues across the world. Although social media has thrived in this respect, it is also the goal of an artist to keep expanding and meeting new opportunities. Yes, record labels may offer the artist much more exposure and opportunities than what the artist can do for himself.

Let me use this opportunity to state that, although over the years, artists have made record labels look like the devil, record Labels are still a fantastic way to get ahead of the competition, so long as every party understands their role. Labels take a lot of risk in investing millions of dollars on artists and artists should see this as a favor, at least until the investor starts getting a return on investment.

Tubaba exploded internationally when he got signed on to Kennis music in 2004.

4. Budget

Even when there is a source of income, we do not just embark on a spending spree. An artist and his management will have to figure out the most effective way to spend his capital. Let us use a very basic example. A shoe cobbler plans to buy a hammer, threads, Polish, machines, gloves etc. He also pays for space at the corner and considers costs like electricity to run his machines. He calculates all of his expected expenses and comes up with a start-up budget/cost. The start-up cost and expenses associated with running the business will determine the price he will charge for his services. The same principles apply to music. An artist will have to answer questions like should I make more videos, or focus on making audios? Should I spend this amount of money on radio promotions or use that amount and pour it into buying outfits for my events? Whatever the choice, the artist should be sure to make decisions that will make the most sense at that point in time.

It is not unusual to come across artists who act like they never want to pay for Photos, studio time, Videos, Management, promotions or distribution. You are going nowhere if you cannot spend money to put your product together i.e a demo, a single, an E.P, Album, Video, or a documentary. Some acts will spend most of their money on making the content, without realizing that promotions and distribution are equally as important as making the content. For any reasonable type of success to occur, the product must reach the intended consumer, there must be a budget for Publicity, Promotions, and distributions.  It is not ok to depend solely on free services.  You may take advantage of free services in the offering but from experience, it is better to pay top industry associates to get the best quality of content and service.

5. Management

Would it surprise you to learn that many fledging artists do not have a manager? The advantages of having a management far supersede the disadvantage (cost). A manager’s role can never be overemphasized. He holds the key to unlocking the artists’ potentials on the field of play, let us just say he is “the Pep Guardiola of the team”.

A manager aims to turn the artist into a money-spinning brand. He is constantly looking out for businesses and deals they can benefit from. He has the artist’s best interest at heart and will do whatever is in his power to drive the brand towards making an impact. Mostly behind the scenes, a manager plans the schedule, negotiates pay, represents the artist in meetings, Plans events, tours or travels with the artist, and most importantly searches for new opportunities where the brand can thrive. Most Managers get paid a monthly salary but some of them agree to be a part of the brand’s growth process and may agree to collect a percentage of the money the artist makes. So that if the artist is not making money he is also not. Whatever the case may be make sure to have a management contract reviewed by a lawyer and signed to avoid any major disputes in the future. Some of the top managers in the industry are Bankuli, Asa Asika, Osagie Omoregbe, Sunday Are, Kamal Ajiboye just to mention a few. It is also a smart idea to start off with a promising manager, one who just got into the business and is willing to take a pay cut for a start, that way the artist can save some money.

Not having a manager is a disaster, just like a soccer team with no manager at the touchline, there will be no form of organization, direction, neither will there be a clear game plan. A good manager knows the most effective areas to spend time and resources to make the most impact. They also provide a pair of eyes from the sideline to know what changes to make for progress to be made.

6. Collaborations

If there is anything that can put an artist in the front foot, it is collaborating with different emerging artists. It is a great way to expose both acts to a different fanbase. The first time most Nigerians ever heard of Wizkid was on a collaboration with MI Abaga who was at the time emerging as one of Nigeria’s finest rappers. Wizkid has undeniable talents, but collaborating on this song with M.I set the tone for what was to come. It increased people’s awareness of his brand and made people eager to find out more about him. It is understood that collaborations with big brands do not come cheap but collaborating with emerging Managers, Models, artists, designers, media outlets, event venues, comedians, small businesses can save the artist a bit of money and also get them ahead.

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